By Dr. Paula Bloom
In a matter of two days I got two big pieces of big news. The first one involved finally signing a book deal (anticipated publication date is March 2012). I’m not the most patient person and it took many months of work and negotiations to finalize. As you might imagine, I was so excited. I was still walking on air and celebrating the book contract when, on the following day, I received another piece of big news.
“Paula, we’d like to invite you to go to a shoe show.” The Atlanta Shoe Market is not just any shoe show, I come to find out, but the 10th-largest shoe show in the world! Yup, you heard me right, a SHOE show. “You’ll be joining our expert buyers.” Gulp. Are you kidding me? I get to tag along with the FootSmart buyers and see how they make decisions on what shoes they will carry? Am I dreaming? I can’t think of a psychological professional conference that would excite me as much as this one!
Of course, the night before I had a hard time sleeping… So many thoughts were going through my mind… What will I wear? Will I get to have any input? Will the giveaways be shoes? So many things to think about!
When I first walked into the exhibition hall I began jumping up and down, smiling and kept saying, “I can’t believe I’m actually here.” Aisles and aisles of shoes…”kid in a candy shop” doesn’t even begin to capture it. “OMG, look at all those shoes!”
FootSmart had teams all over the shoe show making decisions about what shoes would be good choices for their customers. Some retailers focus only on trends but FootSmart’s buyers consider trend as well as comfort, availability in different widths, extended sizes, flexibility for various foot shapes and conditions, etc. While not every shoe at FootSmart is my taste, or would be comfortable for my particular foot, it is good to know that the team screens and vets all of the shoes with the customers in mind.
As an outsider to the shoe industry I was struck by the variety of choices–more than I could ever see in one store. I was overwhelmed by all the factors that go into making decisions about what shoes retailers buy. I walked the show with FootSmart’s Vice-President of Footwear, a 30-year veteran of the shoe world. We couldn’t walk three feet without her being recognized.
When I saw a gorgeous shoe with a leather-wrapped heel she said, “What will happen when you drive a car in that shoe? It looks good now, but when it is all scuffed up it won’t look as good.” When I pointed out another cute shoe she responded, “See this shoe you think is so cute, look what would happen when you walk. The sides will open up. I call this ‘the shoe smiling at you,’ and many women find it unattractive and annoying.” As we walked by different brands, she would simply ask, “Do you come in widths?” Of course, many shoe lines don’t and that would be our cue to just keep walking.
So, as I reflect on my shoe show experience I think about how easily I am guided by emotion — “I love this shoe,” “Look how cute this is,” as well as my inability to get beyond what I like. The leader of FootSmart’s buying team would shake her head, smile and say to me, “This isn’t about our own taste or emotion, this is about what SHE (referring to the customer) needs and wants.”
I guess I’ll stick to just being a shoe lover and wearer, and leave the buying to the experts. And, in case you were wondering (as I did the night before the show), the giveaways included cookies, chocolate, some pens and some bags. As far as shoes go, only the size 6 among us would have a chance of possibly getting any free shoes (that was basically the only size the samples came in). Oh well, at least I got a hat from Born and some candy and cookies from Clarks, both brands I love AND come in my size. If free shoes aren’t an option, free chocolate isn’t a bad consolation prize.